Last week’s article covered some of the background behind older adults choosing to remain in the workforce. In addition to alterations in how society views retirement, older adults are also influencing the workforce as parents of middle-aged employees. Some of these employees become caregivers, who add another dynamic to workplace recruitment, retention, and productivity. Are American companies keeping pace with the changes that an older population is bringing?
In 2014, the Families and Work Institute (www.familiesandwork.org) conducted a nationwide study of over 1,000 employers with 50 or more employees. Its previous study had been completed in 2008. Here are some of the findings.
In general, six characteristics are common among employers who are the most likely to provide benefits for families with older adults. They usually are larger, non-profit organizations which operate in more than one location and have fewer hourly employees. In addition to employing more women than men, they also have more women and minorities who are in executive leadership positions or report directly to these executives. Some examples of benefits include elder care resource and referral services and respite care. Resource and referral services were offered by 43% of companies in 2014 compared to 31% in 2008. Access to respite care for family members of employees is significantly lower at 7%; however, it has improved from 3% in 2008.
While larger companies were more likely to offer assistance programs, smaller companies (50-99 employees) were more likely to demonstrate the type of flexibility with work scheduling which is beneficial for family caregivers. These companies allowed employees to change start or end times within a general range, occasionally work some paid hours from home, and take time off during a workday (without loss of pay) to address personal or family needs. Flexibility in scheduling work hours and managing the workload, which allows individuals of all ages to participate in the workforce while leaving time for meeting other responsibilities and exploring other interests, has been identified as a characteristic of an effective employer. Among all companies, between 2008 and 2014, a general increase in employee flexibility to adjust work times was noted without a change in employee workload. At the same time, fewer options existed for employees to work less than a full-time schedule or to work for only a portion of the year.
The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 has demonstrated an impact on the ability of employees to fulfill a role as a family caregiver. This act does not have a specific provision related to the care of older adults; however, it does allow for “family leave for seriously ill family members.” In 2014, 90% of employers offered at least 12 weeks of leave for employees to care for ill family members (up from 84%). In addition, 75% of employers reported that they allow paid or unpaid time off for employees to specifically provide care for older adults without the threat of losing their jobs. It was found that small and large companies were equally likely to offer this benefit, which may be a result of the characteristics of the executives making the decisions. These executives are more likely to be older themselves and have witnessed a similar need for this type of care within their own families.
On its website, The Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College (www.bc.edu/research/agingandwork) offers case studies of companies that are using innovative programs to meet the needs of older workers as well as workers caring for aging family members. For example, CVS Caremark offers a Snowbird Program in which older workers can transfer to different store regions for part of the year. This program allows them to retain older workers who spend the summers in one part of the country and the winters in another, have workers who understand the needs of their older customers and can provide improved customer service, and adequately staff locations in warmer climates when business increases during the winter. This and other programs that CVS has implemented have increased the percentage of workers age 50 and older from 7% to 22% of their workforce. CBS Corporation offers an example of assistance for caregivers with their Eldercare Services program. The program was implemented in response to increased employee absences and stress and decreased productivity due to family caregiving responsibilities. The program offers services such as a health advocate for employees, their parents, and their in-laws to help families navigate the health care system; and back-up elder care, which allows for in-home emergency care for elders for up to 15 days/year at a cost of only $4/hour.
In addition to programs and benefits offered by individual employers, there are a number of public programs which are designed to assist seniors who desire to remain in the workforce. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (www.doleta.gov/seniors/) assists unemployed, low income seniors age 55+ to obtain part-time positions with community service organizations. The National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org) has an online program called JobSource, which offers free training for writing a resume, improving interview skills, and learning job search skills, as well as assisting seniors to explore their options.
Family caregivers and older adults who aren’t ready for full-time retirement may still face challenges in locating a desirable career opportunity with a flexible work schedule. However, employers are beginning to take action to support employees who are trying to achieve an appropriate work-life balance.
Karen Kaslow, RN